THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY
The Oval Office
4:50 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Is everybody in? Let me just say very briefly, it's a pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the White House. Mr. Gold, our new Ambassador from Israel, welcome, sir. I'm especially glad to have this chance to visit with him so soon after his historic meeting with Mr. Arafat, and I'm looking forward to getting a briefing on that and discussing the issues that are still outstanding.
All of you know the United States is still committed to peace and security, and I think we're making some progress in that direction. And I'm going to do whatever I can to advance it.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, when do you think you'll pull your occupation troops out of the Golan Heights and Lebanon?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, you didn't waste any time. (Laughter.) First of all, let me say that I'm delighted to be here with President Clinton and Vice President Gore and Secretary Christopher.
We've renewed our commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians and with the Syrians. I think that we've been greatly assisted by President Clinton and his staff in resuming the negotiations with the Palestinians. It's not an easy road ahead, but it's one we're committed to and we'll pursue it. And I went over the notes of the conversation that I had with President Clinton a few months ago here, and we've pretty much done what we set out to do, again, with the support -- I think the very important support of the United States.
I hope to have the same kind of support as we seek to resume the peace talks with the Syrians. And, in fact, we're enjoying American assistance and so far we're awaiting the Syrian response.
Q Where do both of you see the process going with, first, with the Palestinians, and with the Syrians?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's what we're going to talk about.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Let me just say, first of all, that I am delighted to have the Prime Minister back in Washington with Mr. Gold, with our new ambassador from Israel, and he's very welcome here and we're very glad to have him. I am interested particularly to have this opportunity to visit so soon after Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Mr. Arafat. I want to hear the results of the meeting, and we'll be discussing where we go next. And I'm all ears. I'm looking forward to this meeting very much.
Q Where do you go next?
THE PRESIDENT: That's what we're about to discuss.
Q Mr. President, what is the United States telling the Israeli government about the withdrawal from Hebron? Should they abide by their commitments?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't said anything yet because we just started our meeting. But we'll have more to say. We're going to discuss Hebron and we're going to discuss all the other issues as well. And I'm hoping we can make progress on all fronts. We'll just do the best we can.
Q Should they abide by their commitments?
Q -- the Prime Minister to implement the agreement with the Palestinians in Hebron and --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're going to discuss what it would entail to make it possible to implement the agreement. We're going to discuss all these issues. We just got here. We're seeing you first, so don't try to get us to jump-start our meeting here. We have to talk first.
Q Mr. President, I understand that the Israelis gave you assurances that the peace process will continue as early as possible with the Palestinians. Such assurances are existing, and what can you tell us about these assurances, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that I should let the Israelis speak for themselves and let the Prime Minister speak for himself. He has said repeatedly that he wants progress in the peace process with the Palestinians and with the Syrians, and the United States is here to help. We're here to do what we can to facilitate this so that both peace and security can be achieved, because I think the goals must be indivisible, you can't have one without the other.
Q Mr. President, would you please respond to charges that your administration has been soft on the Israeli policies because of concerns over the American Jewish vote in November?
THE PRESIDENT: That's wrong. If you go back to 1992 and what I said about the peace process, the first time I ever met Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was still the ambassador to the United Nations, I said that I thought the role of the United States should be to encourage the peace process and to minimize the risks of those who take the risk for peace; to minimize the down side. Because you cannot make these changes without risk -- not just political risk, but other risks as well. That has been my position all along.
Different governments may have different ways of pursuing the peace process, but our goal is to be effective. The only way we can be effective is to work with the elected representatives, the people of Israel, and those who represent the other players in the Middle East to try and minimize the risk of peace and to facilitate the peace process. That is what we have always done. We are not interested in making rhetorical points one way or the other. We're interested in trying to bring about peace with security for all the people in the Middle East.
Q What about Syria, Mr. President?
Q Mr. Prime Minister, will you please facilitate the influence of the Arabs in Israel together without a lot of -- the areas or checkpoints? And please, if you can, create a much humane environment in the way of facilities for the people who are waiting under the burning sun? I was there last week, and I'll tell you, that was not a very good situation.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: First, let me thank President Clinton and Vice President Gore and Secretary Christopher for the assistance that they have given Israel over the years and have given me to help restart the negotiations with the Palestinians. The things that I said in this office sitting next to President Clinton a few months ago are exactly the things that we've done to restart the process. And it was important, especially in the last few weeks, to have active American participation, which I thought proved very productive.
We're committed to continuing the process based on reciprocity and security and, yes, fulfilling our commitments, while the other side does the same. One of the things that we want to do is to ease up on the economic suffering, human suffering of the Palestinians. We've already eased up the closure -- I'm not sure if you're aware of the fact that we have gone from 25,000 workers that were allowed in Israel when we took office, we've doubled that to 50,000. And as far as we're concerned, the number can go up as the security commitments and the security situation is maintained.
And that is our policy. It is to help. It is not to use the closure in any way as a means of pressure. That's not our philosophy; in fact, it's opposite and contrary to our philosophy.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 5:05 P.M. EDT